Wellbeing for All: Achieving wellbeing in an unequal world

When: 5pm, 16th June 2010
: Lecture Theatre G06, Roberts Building

Chaired by: Polly Toynbee (The Guardian)

Keynote Speaker: Professor Richard Wilkinson, Honorary Professor at UCL and co-author of The Spirit Level.

UCL Speakers: Professor Philip Schofield (UCL Bentham Project), Professor Costas Meghir (UCL Economics), Dr Alex Frediani (UCL Development Planning Unit).

This event considered how and whether wellbeing can be achieved in unequal society; the extent to which wellbeing is impeded by inequality; and what the barriers to achieving greater fairness (and consequently improved wellbeing) are.  Professor Wilkinson explored the relationship between equality and happiness, with other speakers considering individual versus social wellbeing; equality, education and wellbeing; and developing wellbeing.

Watch Polly Toynbee and Professor Richard Wilkinson's views on inequality and wellbeing.

The prevalence of negative health and social factors in developed nations is highest where wealth is distributed unequally. That pattern was demonstrated by worldwide epidemiological data presented by Professor Richard Wilkinson (Nottingham), co-author of The Spirit Level and co-founder of the Equality Trust, at a UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing event on 16 June 2010.

Health and social problems relative to income inequality

Index of health and social factors – life expectancy; maths and literacy; infant mortality; homicides; imprisonment; teenage births; trust; obesity; mental illness, including drug and alcohol addiction; and social mobility – relative to income inequality. From The Spirit Level (The Equality Trust)

Speaking at ‘Wellbeing for all? Achieving wellbeing in an unequal world’, Professor Wilkinson said that in developed nations the degree of inequality – the size of the difference between the incomes of the rich and the poor – correlates with prevalence of a wide range of social and health problems. This includes life expectancy, which is not related to average incomes, but to income differences.

He argued that greater social equality is the most important factor in ensuring people’s wellbeing. In contrast to less equal rich countries, more equal rich countries have, for example:

  • higher levels of education 
  • more trust and community involvement
  • greater social mobility
  • more wellbeing among children
  • lower levels of physical ill health
  • lower levels of mental ill health
  • less drug abuse
  • lower rates of imprisonment
  • less obesity
  • less violence
  • fewer teenage births.

Societies with a bigger gap between the rich and the poor are bad for everyone in them, including the well-off. While greater equality yields the greatest benefits for the poor, the benefits extend to the majority of the population.

The chair of the event, Polly Toynbee (The Guardian), introduced brief talks by three speakers – Professor Philip Schofield (UCL Bentham Project), Professor Costas Meghir (UCL Economics) and Dr Alex Frediani (UCL Development Planning Unit) – followed by discussion with the audience.

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